The arrangement becomes complicated when Leo’s long lost grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) suddenly appears on his doorstep, and Mike and Jackie are left to take in an apparently troubled teenager who is running away from his drug addict mother. As luck would have it, Kyle turns out to be a wrestling prodigy, and instantly becomes the star of the lackluster high school wrestling team that Mike coincidentally coaches. As Kyle becomes comfortable with his new life and wins over the Flaherty family and others, his mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) returns desiring to take Kyle home to Ohio and care for Leo there. This serves as the central tension in the film, as Mike wants to keep his star wrestler and Kyle refuses to trust his mother.
The cast of Win Win is excellent and most of the performances are strong. Despite Mike’s questionable decision-making, Giamatti has the charm to make any character immensely likable, and Mike is no exception. Another true talent, Amy Ryan is convincing as a moral housewife, although she is under-utilized. Also under-utilized is Jeffrey Tambor who plays Mike’s friend and assistant wrestling coach. There’s a handful of fun Jeffrey Tambor moments, but not nearly as many as one would expect from the Bluth family patriarch in Arrested Development. Bobby Cannavale has a more fun role as Mike’s friend Terry, but there are times when he seems a bit too much like caricature.
The real star performer is Shaffer as Kyle. In his first ever on screen role, Shaffer exhibits a quiet confidence that makes him seem like a 16-year old modern day version of Gary Cooper – “the strong, silent type.” As Kyle unexpectedly wins over his teammates and the adults around him, the audience incredulously finds itself being won over too, and it’s a major credit to Shaffer’s performance.
This is the third film directed by McCarthy, a character actor whose credits include The Wire and Meet the Parents. McCarthy won praise for his direction ofThe Station Agent and The Visitor, and Win Win earned rave reviews at Sundance. But while the film’s quirkiness may have impressed that crowd, it ultimately lacks enough energy to rise to its potential. At times Win Win is slow, and it can’t quite tug hard enough on your heartstrings. There are several issues that never get resolved, but those that are addressed, are done so in a calming, almost too-soothing way.
Regardless, it’s hard to dislike Win Win. You’ll walk away from the theater feeling relatively good about the film and may even derive some comfort during these tough economic times. But with a first-rate cast, Win Win never realizes its true potential.
Win Win opens in limited release on Friday, March 18.
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